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Assignment Overview

For this essay, you’ll be conducting a rhetorical analysis of a cultural artifact. A rhetorical analysis breaks down a text into its smaller elements in an attempt to show how the text “works.” Analysis, as a process, can take many forms (psychological, sociological, economic, moral, scientific). But a rhetorical analysis of a cultural artifact is specific: it explains how the cultural artifact functions as a text (how its parts create meaning), and how well it achieves its aims.

Writing a rhetorical analysis can be more challenging than it seems, because it generally asks you to do three things: (1) figure out what the artifact is trying to accomplish, (2) identify what tactics are used to accomplish this, and (3) evaluate how well the artifact executes these goals. The assignment is based on the premise that all artifacts are aimed at a specific audience for a specific purpose. Your task with this assignment is to determine the goal of your artifact and to explore the strategies and devices used to achieve these goals.

In other words, you are being asked to select a cultural artifact and consider: What ideas are embedded in this artifact? How are these messages conveyed? Through what rhetorical means? What ideas, beliefs, or stereotypes are being represented through the rhetoric of the artifact?

Evaluate this artifact using what we’ve learned about rhetoric and rhetorical appeals. Who is the target audience for this artifact? What is the purpose? Does the artifact succeed in fulfilling this purpose? Keep in mind that there can be more than one audience or purpose. Are there appeals to ethos, pathos, and/or logos? If so, describe the different ways that you see these appeals working, using details, specifics, and examples.

It may also help to think about some of the more self-evident aspects of the artifact: what do you clearly see or hear? And, perhaps more importantly, what (or who) is being left out? Note that you do not need to answer all of these questions. You may want to pick and choose the ones that work best to support your central purpose. Remember that this paper should also be focused on one central purpose that is specific. It should also include lots of details, examples, and specifics. Lastly, your paper should include some evaluation on your part: Is the rhetoric of the message effective? What is its impact? How, if at all, do you think the artifact affects its audience?

Formatting guidelines

You paper should be 1500 words in length not including endnotes and bibliography. Please include no fewer than five references. Drafts and final paper must be typed, double-spaced with one-inch margins, and stapled. Do not fold the corners of your paper in lieu of a staple. Use 12 pt. font, preferably Times New Roman. Please do not include a title page or my name. Simply include your name, the semester, and the assignment (single-spaced) at the top of the first page. Citations should be formatted in accordance with either MLA guidelines.


When grading your paper, I will be looking for the following:

1) a compelling thesis;

2) well-organized and thorough research that lends credibility to your rhetorical analysis;

3) successful organization of your research into easily readable sections;

4) no fewer than five reliable sources;

5) adherence to the formatting guidelines detailed above, including complete and correct citations for all your sources;

6) careful attention to grammar, spelling, and paragraph construction.


When you are asked to do a rhetorical analysis of a text, you are being asked to apply your critical reading skills to break down the “whole” of the text into the sum of its “parts.” You try to determine what it’s trying to achieve and what strategies are used to achieve this.

Reading critically means more than just being moved, affected, informed, influenced, and persuaded by a text. Reading critically also means analyzing and understanding how the text has achieved its effect.

Below is a list of questions to ask yourself when you begin to analyze a cultural artifact. Keep in mind that you don’t need to apply all of these questions to every artifact.


  1. What is the rhetorical situation? In other words, what occasion created the need for this artifact? Is the artifact in response to a specific event?
  2. Who is the author/creator? What was his or her intent? To explain or inform? To attack or defend? To exhort or dissuade? To praise or blame? To teach, delight, or entertain? Something else? Is there more than one purpose? Does the purpose shift at all throughout the text?
  3. Who is the intended audience? What values does the intended audience share? Are there any possible secondary audiences?
  4. If the artifact is persuasive, which of the persuasive appeals (logos, ethos, or pathos) predominates, and how do these appeals strengthen or weaken the argument?
  5. What is the general subject of the artifact? What is the thesis (the overall main point)?
  6. Is the artifact unified and coherent? Are there adequate transitions? How do the transitions work?
  7. Are there any fallacies or other weaknesses in the artifact? How do they affect the viewer’s response to the artifact? What kinds of assumptions are at work here? Are they fair assumptions?
  8. How does the writer develop his/her ideas? Narration? Description? Definition? Comparison? Analogy? Cause and Effect? Example? Why does the writer use these methods of development?
  9. How does the writer arrange his/her ideas? What are the patterns of arrangement? Particular to general? Broad to specific? Spatial? Chronological? Alternating? Block?
  10. Are devices of comparison used to convey or enhance meaning? Which tropes–similes, metaphors, personification, hyperbole, etc. does the writer use? When does he/she use them? Why?
  11. Are there any particularly vivid images that stand out? What effect do these images have on the?
  12. What tone does the artifact achieve? Do you react at an emotional level to it? Are important terms repeated throughout the artifact? Why?

When you write a rhetorical analysis, all you’re really doing is putting onto paper the strategies you discovered/ideas you came up with when reading the text critically. Remember, you do not have to cover all of these aspects when writing a formal rhetorical analysis. You must choose those elements that are most worthy of your (and the reader’s) attention. Awareness of how texts work will make you both a more critical reader and a more self-aware and effective writer.


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